ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro. And each night, we're here to answer your questions.
AMY BIANCULLI: My name is Amy Bianculli (ph).
ADAM PAP: This is Adam Pap (ph).
ELSIE: Hi. This is Elsie (ph) from Los Angeles.
BIANCULLI: I'm calling from Tennessee.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes, I have a question.
PAP: Why is testing so hard to ramp up?
REBECCA: We hear a lot about the false negatives in testing. What about the false positives?
ELSIE: Isn't it better for everyone just to behave as if they are a carrier?
DAVID #1: How does the concertgoing experience change because of COVID-19?
KEISHA ING: You know, I don't think graduation is just about me. It really is about my whole family, what my parents have done for me.
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SHAPIRO: Tonight, we have NPR journalists and outside experts on hand to offer solid facts, tell you what we know and correct some of the misinformation that's floating around. And when we don't know something, we'll tell you that, too. Send us your questions about the pandemic and the way we live now at npr.org/nationalconversation. Or on Twitter, you can use the hashtag #nprconversation.
Each night, we begin by answering the question, what happened today? Today, we learned that in the month of April alone, more than 20 million people lost their jobs in the U.S. These are historic numbers. The unemployment rate is now close to 15%. It hasn't been anywhere near that since the Great Depression. Even health care workers are getting layoffs and furloughs as patients postpone nonessential medical procedures. Michelle Sweeney is a nurse on furlough.
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MICHELLE SWEENEY: I mean, nursing is who you are. It's like a slap in the face. And I get there's a financial picture, but it's very emotional.
SHAPIRO: Then there's the case of Rick Bright, the vaccine specialist who says he was demoted for refusing to promote unproven treatments for COVID-19. His lawyers say the federal watchdog looking into his case found reasonable grounds that he was retaliated against.
At the White House, the vice president's spokeswoman, Katie Miller, has tested positive for the virus. She's the second White House staffer this week to test positive.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Katie - she tested very good for a long period of time. And then all of a sudden today, she tested positive. She hasn't come into contact with me, spent some time with the vice president.
SHAPIRO: The White House now says anyone in contact with the president will be tested daily. In the U.S., there are now 1.2 million confirmed cases and more than 76,000 deaths. Public health experts say one of the most important requirements for lifting stay-at-home orders is mass testing. Yesterday, NPR and Harvard released a new analysis showing that only nine states are doing enough testing to make it safe to relax social distancing. You've sent us lots of questions on this topic, so here to give us some answers we've got Marc Lipsitch. He is a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. Good to have you with us.
MARC LIPSITCH: Thanks for having me.
SHAPIRO: I know you didn't conduct the study I just mentioned, but I'm curious. Of those nine states that have enough testing capacity, how does that overlap with the states that are starting to open up right now? Are we seeing some states reopen that don't have enough tests to know how widespread the disease is?
LIPSITCH: I think there are a lot of states that are in the process of opening. And I would - I'm concerned that where - most of those cases don't have enough testing capacity.
SHAPIRO: Let's get into the question of why. We have a question here from David (ph) in Sacramento, Calif.
DAVID #2: I keep hearing about abundant testing, quote-unquote, "capacity." So my question is, how many tests are currently available to be given?
SHAPIRO: Professor Lipsitch, do we even have that number?
LIPSITCH: Well, not really. We have a number of - an estimate of the number of tests that have been given per day in recent days, and it's around 300,000. It jumps around a little bit per day. But one of the challenges - I asked my lab group today if they knew the number, and we spent a lot of time looking, and we had to find a private website. There's no - the CDC doesn't give you that number.
SHAPIRO: And what does that tell you that that number isn't even widely available?
LIPSITCH: Well, I think it reflects the basic problem that we don't have a national mobilization to make testing and the other parts of the response a priority. We have a really chaotic response at the national level, and that's why it's so hard to understand what's going on and to, more importantly, to control what's going on.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. All right, well, there's a related question here from Adam in San Ramon, Calif.
PAP: Why is testing so hard to ramp up? I hear it's the lack of raw materials, but what specifically is keeping testing from being widely available?
SHAPIRO: What is the big obstacle? I mean, at first, we heard there were not enough tests. Then we heard there were enough tests but not enough swabs. Right now, what's the biggest holdup?
LIPSITCH: I think the biggest holdup is, again, the lack of a national strategy. I was on a call last night with public health leaders from around the globe and hearing the sort of really tight coordination that was being done at the national level in each of those countries. And here, we have governors trying to get supplies. And it's not just PPE. It's even the swab and testing supplies. And so it's the lack of coordination. And then it is actually the - still some of the supplies that are not available in enough quantity to do what we need.
SHAPIRO: And can you tell us about one of those supplies and why it's not available even months after the demand became apparent - the need became apparent, I should say?
LIPSITCH: Yeah, I don't - I'm not a supply chain expert.
LIPSITCH: I don't know how to describe the reasons for that. But when - well, I'll leave it there.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. OK. Well, let's go to this next question, which comes from Rebecca (ph) in Long Beach, Calif.
REBECCA: We hear a lot about the false negatives in testing. What about the false positives?
SHAPIRO: Are there false positives as frequently as there are false negatives?
LIPSITCH: That's a great question. With the virus testing where you're looking to see whether someone currently has the virus, that's extremely rare. And the reason is that the PCR, the test that's designed to find it, is really specifically targeted at sequences of the virus that are not found in other viruses. It's a different problem with antibody tests.
SHAPIRO: So you're saying antibody tests may be inaccurate in the other direction?
LIPSITCH: Antibody tests are inaccurate in both directions, but the virus tests are insensitive sometimes. They don't pick up all the positives, and that's mostly because of the swab itself. It's that you have to actually get virus out of a person, and that's the part that's insensitive. If you actually get it out of the person, the tests themselves are very sensitive.
SHAPIRO: All right. Well, our next listener, Reeva (ph) in Brooklyn, has this question about testing.
REEVA: My husband and I had the antibody test and got a positive result, but on the test, there's a disclaimer that the antibodies could be from a whole bunch of other coronaviruses. So I'm curious. Is that just a legal disclaimer that labs have to put on their test results or is it very likely that we actually had one of these other coronaviruses and not COVID-19?
SHAPIRO: Interesting, 'cause COVID-19 is just one of many coronaviruses. SARS was another coronavirus. So is MERS. There are many more common ones. And what are the chances that the antibody test comes back positive because somebody had a different coronavirus that was not COVID-19?
LIPSITCH: That depends a lot on the test. And so that number - the false positive rate is the - is related to, in part, whether it tests positive from some other coronavirus. Some of the assays are very, very specific, meaning they have very little false positive rates - very low false positive rates. And others have higher ones. And that's mostly, I think, due to cross-reaction with other antibodies to other coronaviruses.
SHAPIRO: So you're saying it doesn't sound like it's just legalese jargon. It might actually have been that the person had coronavirus that wasn't COVID-19.
LIPSITCH: That is certainly possible, and it's especially an issue with some of the at-home or point-of-care tests.
SHAPIRO: All right. Well, if you have a question about testing for Professor Lipsitch, send it to us at npr.org/nationalconversation. Or on Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation. And this next question comes from Elsie in Los Angeles, who's curious about the value of testing.
ELSIE: Isn't it better for everyone just to behave as if they are a carrier? Someone could be tested on a Monday, get a negative result on Friday but been infected on Wednesday in between. Or they could get a negative test result and then get infected afterwards.
SHAPIRO: That seems right to me. Professor Lipsitch, what's your take on this?
LIPSITCH: That is exactly right, and that's one reason why getting quick turnaround for the tests so that at least you have an up-to-date answer is important. And there's a lot of innovation working right now to try to get fast tests that give quick answers. But that's absolutely right.
Testing by itself doesn't solve the problem, but it is an essential part of the solution because if we're going to go back to work, we can't all act like carriers because acting like a carrier means staying at home. And if we're going to get back to work, we need to find some way to get up-to-date information about whether someone's infected.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. All right, this next question comes from Gerald (ph) in New Hampshire, who's wondering about antibodies.
GERALD: Will current testing of COVID-19 also show results of antibodies for COVID-19?
SHAPIRO: Clarify this for us. Are these two different tests or would one thing show both?
LIPSITCH: Usually not. The antibody tests are usually - are almost always on blood, while the tests for virus are almost always on either a swab from the nose or the nasopharynx or maybe on saliva. It is possible, in fact, with the antibody tests - with some of the antibody tests to find what's known as IGM, which is an antibody that comes up quite early in infection. And that can be an indicator that you might well currently have virus. But basically, it's two kinds of tests.
SHAPIRO: One to see if you have it today and one to see if you had it previously.
SHAPIRO: All right. Well, this next question comes from Joanne (ph) in Philadelphia, and it's about what testing might look like in the future. We've just got less than a minute left, but I think we can squeeze this one in.
JOANNE: Assuming that many people will need to take frequent tests for COVID-19 in the future, are researchers and manufacturers taking steps to make available noninvasive in-home test kits?
SHAPIRO: Just briefly, Professor Lipsitch, do you think that's a possibility for the near future?
LIPSITCH: Yeah, there's a lot of work being done right now at Harvard and elsewhere on saliva-based tests and on tests that will give very quick answers.
SHAPIRO: All right, let's hope it comes soon. Professor Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, we appreciate your joining us tonight.
LIPSITCH: Thank you for having me.
SHAPIRO: Up next, we're going to answer your questions about the high rates of unemployment. Go to npr.org/nationalconversation. On Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation. And this is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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SHAPIRO: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro.
The unemployment rate in America today is at nearly 15% - the worst number since the Great Depression. More than 33 million Americans have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Retailers are filing for bankruptcy. Congress is considering a fifth economic relief package. You've asked us a lot of questions about unemployment, the relief packages and the state of the economy, and joining us to answer them is NPR economics correspondent Jim Zarroli. Good to have you back with us, Jim.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Before we dive into the listener questions, help put this in perspective for us. At first, it felt like it was travel and hospitality, and then retail, and now it just seems like the entire economy is being swallowed up in this whirlpool.
ZARROLI: Everything. I mean, you know, we were expecting a bad jobs number, and we got it. We've never really seen this kind of wholesale sudden collapse in the job market. I'm just - more than 20 million jobs lost in one month. If there was a silver lining, it was that more than 18 million people expect to be called back to work. So if that happens, we will be able to repair some of the damage that's been done to the economy. But for now, we've just seen this unprecedented rise in unemployment.
SHAPIRO: Each of those 33 million people has a story, and we're going to hear one of them right now. Christine Russell (ph) is on the line with us from Tennessee. She owns White Pavilion Clothing, and she makes a living as a costume vendor at Renaissance fairs. Ms. Russell, good to have you with us. Thanks for joining us.
CHRISTINE RUSSELL: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to talk to you.
SHAPIRO: So these festivals through the spring and summer, these Renaissance fairs where you make a living are not happening for at least this season. How has that affected your bottom line right now?
RUSSELL: Oh, well, my bottom line is kind of a crater with the daylight pretty far overhead. So, you know, I'm just doing what I can to hang on, you know, and keep the business afloat until we can get back in business.
SHAPIRO: Do you have a forecast for how long you can hang on?
RUSSELL: No, I really don't. I mean, none of us have ever been here before, and I don't know...
RUSSELL: ...What to expect, you know, because fairs provide the huge bulk of my income, and so I've never tried to really make it without that. And...
RUSSELL: ...You know, there's so many of us in the same boat. And so it's hard. You can't really go to someone and say, well, what did you do about this, because nobody's ever been here before, like I said. We just...
RUSSELL: ...Don't know.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Are you trying anything creative to get income in a way that you might not have before, I mean, whether it's online sales or something else?
RUSSELL: Well, I've had a website for years, and...
RUSSELL: ...That brings a little bit of income. We're a very resourceful community. Of course, we make full use of things like Facebook. And we've started working more that way, finding ways to market to each other online. And so we've gotten some sales there. But, as I say, it can't replace the fair - not by any stretch of the imagination.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Well, we have Jim Zarroli on the line with us, our economics correspondent. Do you have any questions for him that he might be able to help answer?
RUSSELL: Well, yes, I do. Are you ready?
ZARROLI: Yep, I'm ready.
RUSSELL: OK, thank you. One of the problems that many of us have is that we're self-employed and we do not have employees. So most of the relief packages, you know, like the PPP and the EIDL, are designed as vehicles to pass money through employers to employees. But if you have no employees, there's really nothing but the pandemic unemployment assistance, and that is linked to your state unemployment. And in my case, for instance, the state of Tennessee only gives me 120 a week. And that goes away, including the $600, if I make, say, a commission of $120.25.
RUSSELL: If I get just a little bit over that $120, it's going to cost me $720.
SHAPIRO: So, Jim...
SHAPIRO: ...What would you say?
ZARROLI: Well, I...
RUSSELL: Yeah, what do I do?
ZARROLI: I did talk - I talked to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. And it is true. You are limited to 100 - I believe $125 a week right now. That's the initial amount that you're going to get. They will calculate your benefits, and you will get more - presumably up to, I think, $275. If you make more than that, yeah, you lose your benefits. And I was told by the Tennessee government that you lose access to the $600 as well.
SHAPIRO: I'm sorry.
RUSSELL: And there's no - in any of the other relief packages from the SBA, none of those are really tailored for us either. I mean, you know, people who are self-employed, we're very used to, you know, making do and falling through the cracks. But in this case, I mean, there are no lifeboats for us to climb into. And there's a lot of pain out there in our community. I can tell you that for sure.
SHAPIRO: I wish we had a better answer for you, Christine. I'm sorry to hear about your situation, and I appreciate you sharing your story with us. I hope you can get back out there soon.
RUSSELL: Thank you very much.
SHAPIRO: And if you have a question for NPR's economics correspondent Jim Zarroli about the unemployment situation and the relief packages, send them to us at npr.org/nationalconversation. Or on Twitter, you can use the hashtag #nprconversation. Jim, we got this question from Nan (ph) in Wheeler, Ore., who received a $1,200 payment from the CARES Act. And she writes, I heard that this rebate is an advance on my refundable tax credit against 2020 taxes. Does this mean the government will deduct $1,200 from my tax return? Jim, that would be worrisome. Is that the case?
ZARROLI: Yeah, but I've heard that question a lot, and there seems to be a lot of confusion about this. What they call the stimulus payment, which is also called the economic impact payment, does not count toward your gross income and it is not taxed. So they will...
ZARROLI: ...Not take it out of your refund later. It will not be added to your bill.
SHAPIRO: That's some good news. All right, how about this question from Michael (ph) in Naples, Fla., who writes, I was furloughed from my employer for the past two weeks, but now I'm back to work thanks to the PPP. That's the Payment Protection Program. While I promptly applied to unemployment, my current status with the unemployment office remains pending. Will getting back to work so quickly affect my unemployment application? Jim, what can you tell Michael about his eligibility for those claims?
ZARROLI: Well, first, the state is probably going to find out that he's working again pretty quickly and stop payments. But, you know, he's asking about the two-week period when he wasn't working. I've talked with Stephanie Bornstein, who teaches law at the University of Florida, and she says until recently, there was a one-week delay in getting benefits, so he only would have got - been paid for the second week. Governor of Florida has changed that, so he's supposed to be paid now for both weeks that he was unemployed. Now, I don't know when he will actually get the money because...
ZARROLI: ...Florida has been really slow to process claims. But he is supposed to get it.
SHAPIRO: OK. Here's another listener with a question about unemployment. This is Ethan (ph) in Texas.
ETHAN: I had plans to thru-hike a long-distance backpacking trail this year for roughly six months. I quit my job in March with several months' notice, but my hiking plans can no longer go through due to the pandemic. Am I eligible for unemployment?
SHAPIRO: So he quit his job planning to go on this six-month hike. He can't go on the six-month hike because of the pandemic. Can he file for unemployment?
ZARROLI: Yeah, that sounds like it would've been a nice hike. Unfortunately, if you quit your job voluntarily, you cannot get unemployment insurance. You have to have been laid off or fired. Now, under the CARES Act, there are some exceptions. For instance, if you're taking care of a child and you cannot work or if for some other reason connected to the virus you cannot work, in that case, you might qualify for federal benefits, but probably not.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR economics correspondent Jim Zarroli. Jim, thank you for answering these questions for us tonight.
ZARROLI: You're welcome.
SHAPIRO: Coming up, we're going to be hearing from some first-generation college graduates. And if you have questions, send them to us at npr.org/nationalconversation. On Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation. And we also have a voicemail line now. That number is 202-403-0386. Once again, that's 202-403-0386. We'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro.
When the coronavirus hit, college students' lives turned upside down. They moved out of dorms and back in with their parents. Virtual classes replaced lecture halls. And for seniors, the traditions of graduation were canceled. Graduation day has even more meaning for first-generation students, those who are the first in their family to go to college. NPR's Elissa Nadworny is here with us to talk about what those graduating seniors are going through and to answer some of their questions. Hi, Elissa.
ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Our first listener is Anita Herrera (ph), and we're going to take her story in parts. She's just graduated from North Central College in Naperville, Ill. And a couple months ago, she moved back in with her family in Florida, where she tells us she had to watch her younger nieces during the days.
ANITA HERRERA: During the daytime, when I wanted to do my work, I couldn't because I had to take care of them. And then when my mom would come home, she also needed help with the girls 'cause there's two of them. So we - there was just not enough time for me to do homework in the day, so I would try to do it at night, but then all my motivation was gone.
SHAPIRO: Let's just pause her story there for a moment. Elissa, I'm sure a lot of students are finding their work routines are disrupted. They're trying to get homework done. There's all kinds of chaos around them. Do you have any advice?
NADWORNY: Yeah. I have heard this from students across the country. I mean, families just aren't used to what school is like or to what college is like, so they're really struggling. I think the biggest piece of advice I can offer is to reach out to your professors. I've talked to lots of professors across the country who say they don't know what's going on in students' lives. And so unless a student sends an email or tells them about, you know, what's going on, they can't make accommodations, they can't work with deadlines. I think the biggest thing is to just reach out. It can be a little uncomfortable or embarrassing maybe to kind of explain your situation, but professors really want it.
SHAPIRO: Well, Anita is the first in her family to go to college, and she was really looking forward to celebrating with them at graduation in Illinois. But North Central held a virtual graduation.
HERRERA: So my family has never been to North Central. They have never set foot on the campus. I was really excited for them to see the campus I had been on for, like, the past three years. Unfortunately, they couldn't see it.
SHAPIRO: And, Elissa, we heard this from a lot of graduates. UCLA senior Keisha Ing (ph) told us that her graduation was supposed to be a way for her to honor the sacrifices of her parents, who had immigrated from Shanghai and Hong Kong.
ING: You know, I don't think graduation is just about me. It really is about my whole family, what my parents have done for me. It's not just an accumulation of my efforts, but kind of like a reflection of, like, my parents' hard work. And so for all of us to celebrate at graduation I think is a momentous occasion that, unfortunately, isn't going to be happening this year.
SHAPIRO: So, Elissa, when you hear these kinds of stories from Anita and Keisha, is there anything you can suggest that might be a way for them and their families to celebrate this accomplishment even if it isn't exactly what they had planned?
NADWORNY: Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean, I think there is also some kind of time to grieve a little bit. Like...
NADWORNY: ...This is something that students look forward to for a long, long time - and their families. And that's OK to feel really bummed that you didn't get to do this graduation. You know, a lot of students actually ordered gowns and - their cap and gowns already. So I've seen a number of families kind of doing mini graduations...
NADWORNY: ...In the lawn or in the living room to still celebrate that accomplishment. You know, schools are trying to do something. A lot have said, we're going to try in the fall or even next year to have, like, a special celebration for the class of 2020. There's a ton of virtual graduations, several being held just this weekend, with grad speakers, like, over Zoom. So, you know, schools are trying. I think you got to celebrate it. It is so awesome.
NADWORNY: And it doesn't matter that it was canceled or that we're going through this time. Like, it's still an amazing accomplishment for the students and their families.
SHAPIRO: You know, I live right by the Howard University campus. And just the other day, I was going for a run, and I saw a student in a cap and gown. And there were two people standing far apart from her, taking photos. She threw her cap in the air.
SHAPIRO: And it was like a solo, socially distant graduation celebration.
NADWORNY: That is awesome.
SHAPIRO: And, of course, then there's the question of what - by the way, as I ran past, I shouted, congratulations.
NADWORNY: That's awesome.
SHAPIRO: There's also the question of what happens after graduation because for many seniors, their future plans have been turned upside down. Jazarae James (ph) just graduated from the University of Michigan. She and her best friend from high school had been planning on moving to South Korea to teach English. And she told us that that has been their plan for years.
JAZARAE JAMES: I got my teaching certificate this semester. And we already did the research, and we have everything we need to get there except the fact that you can't really go internationally anymore. We were planning to leave in August, and that might be postponed till January.
SHAPIRO: We also heard from Darrell Watkins (ph), who graduated from North Central College in Illinois. He's supposed to start his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in the fall.
DARRELL WATKINS: You know, when I start looking for apartments now, I have no idea if, you know, I'll be still at home come August, September or if I'll be out in Michigan. So it's - you know, kind of throws that up in the air. And I'm sure a lot of other students that are traveling away from home to do, you know, Ph.D. programs or even just regular undergrad are kind of wondering how is this going to work? You know, do I get housing? Do I not get housing now? Do I just wait and see what happens?
SHAPIRO: So, Elissa, when there is so much uncertainty, what advice can you give recent graduates on how to think about the future?
NADWORNY: Yeah. So making plans is hard for everybody right now. You know, there's just so many unknowns. I think the challenge for grads is to be really flexible. You know, there are still jobs out there in certain sectors. There are a lot of internships that have actually gone virtual. I think the plan might not be the plan that you had, but I think you just got to pivot. And there's a lot of opportunities. I think, you know, networking is a big one.
I think especially for, you know, those students who are thinking about what's going to - what's fall going to look like - you know, Darrell, who's waiting on this Ph.D. program - the fall for college students is a really big question mark. You know, schools aren't going to really announce what they're going to do until June or July, and there's lots of options on the table. I will say one thing. Schools have been pretty clear that they're going to try and get back in person in the fall, and so they're going to be the best point of contact if you're wondering, like, is my university going back, or for Darrell, what's the Ph.D. program - his status. The people at the university are going to be the best point of contact for that.
SHAPIRO: But it does seem like some students are going to have to make a decision about whether to take a gap year, whether to postpone, whether to go to plan B before they know what their university is going to be doing in the fall.
NADWORNY: Yeah, absolutely. It's a really, really hard time for families. I think the one thing I'll just say is with the gap year question, you know, we just know that if you don't have plans in the fall, it makes it harder to enroll down the road, and so I just - I would caution families to make that decision now without knowing exactly what the fall is going to look like.
SHAPIRO: All right. To return to Keisha Ing, who is finishing up her senior year in UCLA, she's interested in getting a job in digital media. She's been applying to lots of open positions, but the process of networking and scheduling informational interviews is totally different right now.
ING: I just look at the companies that I'm interested in working for and then see if there's an alumni of my school that's there and then just try to contact them through, like, their work email to see if they would be interested in setting up, like, a phone call with me or, like, maybe a video chat - whatever is easiest for them.
SHAPIRO: That sounds very resourceful. Elissa, do you have any suggestions for people like her?
NADWORNY: Yeah. I mean, networking is really hard, but I would say do it right now. Everybody is stuck at home. They're near their devices. Reach out. I think that's actually a great time to do some networking.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Elissa Nadworny is with us answering questions from first-generation college graduates. We're going to have much more from her after a short break. If you have questions, go to npr.org/nationalconversation, or ask us on Twitter with the hashtag #nprconversation. We'll be back in just a moment.
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SHAPIRO: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Elissa Nadworny is still with us. And, you know, we were just hearing from Keisha, who is trying to network without the ordinary tools that would be available to her. If people are doing a video interview or a phone networking conversation, as opposed to the kind of coffee date that they might be used to, do you have tips for them?
NADWORNY: Well, so, you know, we've gotten tips on kind of how to make yourself look good on camera - sitting by a window so there's some natural light, putting in headphones so the commotion of wherever you are is kind of quieted down. I actually think there's an advantage here of doing it on the phone or doing it virtually. You know, I think in-person can be really nerve-wracking, especially for students who feel like they're kind of on squishy ground, right? They don't really have the experience to hold a conversation. You know, I've been hearing from students that are actually...
SHAPIRO: On Zoom, no one can tell if your hands are clammy.
NADWORNY: (Laughter) Totally, yeah. I've been hearing from students who are like, oh, actually, the phone and the computer are making this a little bit easier.
NADWORNY: I mean, the initial reach out is still hard, but, you know, there's an advantage here.
NADWORNY: Silver linings.
SHAPIRO: Right, silver - got to look for the silver lining.
SHAPIRO: Let's hear again from Darrell, who's planning on starting his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in the fall. His visit to the campus was canceled because of this pandemic.
WATKINS: So when I accepted the offer, I've never even been to the school, so I don't even know what to really expect when I get there or, you know, what the area's like. So I think that throws a little bit of uncertainty into it.
SHAPIRO: So I got to say I went to college having never visited the campus before the first day of freshman year, so it can be done. I know it's a Ph.D. program, but, Elissa, do you have any tips for somebody like Darrell or for undergrads who are heading off to college or grad school without having ever seen the place they've committed to?
NADWORNY: Yeah. So that is going to be the reality for a lot of students with campuses closed. Colleges are getting really creative. You know, they know that this is an issue. So we've got a ton of virtual tours. We've got these, like, interactive, like, kind of VR experiences where you can kind of navigate the campus. We definitely see a lot of that.
Students are also tapping their alumni networks and current students to reach out and kind of say, this is what campus is like, or, this is what this small town in Ohio is actually like if you've never been here. I've talked to a number of high school seniors who are trying to make this decision of where to go in the fall. Many of them have not set foot on campus, and they say...
NADWORNY: ...That that's actually been really, really helpful - these group chats or, you know, this connections that they have with current students. They can ask questions. It's almost like a more personal layer. You know, they've never been there, but now they feel like they have, like, friends and connections to these places.
SHAPIRO: And so to shift from the college application - from the college graduation process to the college application process, you say you're also talking to high school seniors. As - I guess the seniors have figured out where they're going - as the juniors are trying to figure out where they want to go and might not be able to visit these college campuses, what guidance do you have for them?
NADWORNY: So the big thing for them is that colleges need students right now. Like, enrollment had already been down before coronavirus, so fewer students were going to college. Now they're even more hurting for students. So actually, I'm kind of optimistic about those juniors out there. I think schools are going to be flexible. They know that the testing is all out of whack. You know, many have gone test-optional. So I think schools are going to be really flexible and compassionate, and they're going to have student-focused policies, and so I'm really hopeful for those juniors (laughter).
SHAPIRO: All right. Well, to all the college graduates we heard from and to those we didn't, congratulations on your accomplishment whether or not you got to stand with your classmates and throw your cap in the air. We applaud you. NPR's Elissa Nadworny, thanks for answering these questions for us.
NADWORNY: Thanks, Ari.
SHAPIRO: And if you have questions, go to npr.org/nationalconversation. On Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation. Or call us and leave a message at 402-40 - at 202-403-0386. This is NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SHAPIRO: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.
For many musicians, touring is their main way of making money. And as soon as this pandemic hit, concerts and live performances were canceled. While many artists are now struggling to stay afloat, some have come up with creative ways to keep making music during this strange time. NPR music correspondent Ann Powers has been talking with musicians about the challenges and opportunities in this moment, and she's here with us to answer your questions. Hi, Ann. Great to have you here.
ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari. It's good to hear your voice.
SHAPIRO: I want to start by bringing in another voice, musician and activist Nakia Reynoso in Austin, Texas. It's good to have you with us, Nakia. Oh, Nakia, do we have you there?
NAKIA REYNOSO: Yes, I'm here. Can you hear me?
SHAPIRO: Yes. OK, yes, we can hear you. First, will you just tell us how this pandemic has affected you and the people in your creative community?
REYNOSO: Well, I personally watched thousands of dollars evaporate before my eyes as my entire 2020 schedule was canceled. I was supposed to be singing onstage right now during this broadcast, but Threadgill's, the 87-year-old iconic Austin venue I was set to play, has now shuttered permanently. And thousands of my...
SHAPIRO: Permanently - wow.
REYNOSO: And thousands of my fellow musicians in Austin are out of work. Our city is in real danger of losing all of our music venues...
REYNOSO: ...And the billions of dollars that we bring into Austin.
SHAPIRO: And I know that is true of every city with a population of musicians. It's such a dire situation. Is there a question that Ann can help answer for you?
REYNOSO: Sure. For years, musicians have depended on live shows to make up the majority of our income while constantly fighting for fair royalties. While music streaming companies and corporate radios now asking for a bailout, what is it going to take to get these companies to stop building their empires on the backs of songwriters and musicians and pay us the money we deserve? Or how about a bailout for the independent music venues that employ hundreds of thousands of staff and musicians across the country?
SHAPIRO: Ann, do you see a way for these individual musicians all over the country to be lifted up by some of these bigger companies that are able to stay afloat right now?
POWERS: Well, first off, Nakia, thank you so much for your words. You know, really raising consciousness about how the music industry works and how reliant all musicians are and so many other people are on live music is the first step. We're talking about, as you said, a $30 billion industry and, you know, employing everyone from sound people to people who work in venues to background singers to the pop stars we admire. I think people don't think about the things that giving - that bring them pleasure as work, you know? And musicians need to be seen as workers. And they also - it needs to be acknowledged that musicians - many of them live on the edge financially and also that many have lost their day jobs because so many musicians work in the service industry - bars...
SHAPIRO: Right - bartenders, waiters - yeah.
POWERS: Right. Exactly. So it's like - I've seen this in Nashville. It's such a huge double whammy, and it is a genuine catastrophe. What I find heartening, Ari and Nakia, is that musicians are not only being inventive in finding ways to directly connect with fans - maybe we'll talk about that a bit...
POWERS: ...You know, through livestreams and music subscription services, et cetera, but they are becoming activists. There is organized activism in Austin. There - in Nashville, in New York, in LA, all over the country, and I think that's so important. The activism is where it's at.
SHAPIRO: Well, Nakia, thank you for sharing your story with us. I hope that things take a turn and appreciate you continuing to make art in this tough time.
REYNOSO: Well, thank you so much. And please make sure to check out my Tiny Desk Contest entry.
SHAPIRO: Ann, let's listen to...
POWERS: Get yourself out there, Nakia.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Let's go to another question. This comes from David (ph) in West Palm Beach, Fla., who's a freelance artist and classical musician.
DAVID #1: We know that the concertgoing experience is a very magical experience for both the performer and the audience. And as we move into a new pandemic and start to deal with it, how does the concertgoing change because of COVID-19? What formats are now going to be available to us to be able to present and monetize on our concert experience? Because as freelance artists and musicians, it's very important to be able to strike a living for our work.
SHAPIRO: I'm trying to picture a socially distanced concert hall where there's a person in every third seat, and it just doesn't make economic sense. Ann?
POWERS: It also doesn't make emotional sense. Am I right, Ari?
POWERS: I mean, we want to be together. We want to be connecting with each other in the audience and with those artists. And, you know, every arts-presenting organization that I know about is struggling with this question. How do we go on and keep the magic alive? But public safety has to come first. Then...
POWERS: ...I think music lovers need to really learn that they have to sometimes pay for streaming music experience. It's just as they pay for Netflix or whatever, you know?
POWERS: I think that's part of it. I mean, we got to pony up, frankly.
SHAPIRO: Yeah. Well, you know, we actually have another question from a singer who has been doing a bunch of online concerts at home that speaks to this issue. This is from a singer-songwriter in your city of Nashville, Michaela Anne.
MICHAELA ANNE: I've been doing weekly livestream concerts on Instagram and Facebook. And as odd as it is to sit alone and play at my computer screen, it has in some ways made me feel more connected to my audience than if I was standing onstage. The viewers can comment and share their own stories. I can interact in real time. It's less formal. It's an interesting juxtaposition how this time of social distancing is creating new avenues of connection that can feel even more intimate in a different way. How do you think these new ways to interact with audiences will carry over and change the music industry in the future?
SHAPIRO: What an interesting and kind of inspiring question, Ann. What would you say?
POWERS: First of all, Michaela Anne is an inspiring artist. Everyone should check out her new recording. It's called "Desert Dove." I'm very happy to hear her voice.
POWERS: I absolutely agree that this pandemic is accelerating a change that was already happening, which is that the middle people are falling away in the music industry. And I say that as a critic, Ari. I am a middle person.
POWERS: So maybe I'm making myself obsolete. But, you know, the direct to fan connection has never been stronger. And in a way, I think it's kind of going maybe back to the way we think about folk music or jazz...
POWERS: ...Where dedicated fans know they have to truly financially help out the artists they love. At the same time, that's - that can be very taxing for artists to have to be...
POWERS: You know, where's their private life when everything is online?
POWERS: Like, I mean, that's...
SHAPIRO: Creating a new world before our eyes of the artist-fan relationship.
POWERS: Yeah, I think it's really interesting.
SHAPIRO: You know, Ann, just in our last minute, we often end on Friday with what's helping listeners get through it, and I wonder if you could share with us something that you've been listening to lately that's keeping your spirits up.
POWERS: Well, speaking of artists and fan relationships, my - I am the biggest fan of Rhiannon Giddens. She is one of my favorite artists. And she recently found in her archives a cover she had recorded of Bill Withers' song "Just The Two Of Us." And this is the perfect song for this moment. It's all about connection.
SHAPIRO: "Just The Two Of Us."
POWERS: "Just The Two Of Us," you and me, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Let's listen to a little bit of it before we have to say goodbye.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUST THE TWO OF US")
RHIANNON GIDDENS: (Singing) I see the crystal raindrops fall and the beauty of it all...
SHAPIRO: Ann Powers, thank you so much for joining us today.
POWERS: Super fun. And we're going to get through it. Music lives. Music lives forever. Thanks so much.
SHAPIRO: Amen. Have a great weekend, everybody. You're listening to THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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